Learning a second language is one of the most rewarding things a person can do in life. Learning a second language allows someone to view the world from a different perspective. Bilingualism can occur in two different ways, simultaneously and sequentially. Simultaneous bilingualism is when a child is learning multiple languages from the time they are born. Whereas, sequential bilingualism is when a child or adult learns a second language after already acquiring a first. For the purpose of this paper I will be discussing sequential bilingualism.
Palea and Bostina-Bratu (2015), discuss how second language acquisition can often be a difficult task for an adult to acquire a new language once they have passed the critical period. However, I interviewed two individuals who acquired a second language at the age of 7 and at the age of 26. Interestingly, both of these individuals went through the same process when acquiring a second language. In this paper, I will discuss each of the individual’s process of learning a second language and the factors that contributed to this similar process.
Travis was born in Houston, Texas and grew up with English as the sole household language. When Travis was 26 he moved to Brazil to teach English. Originally, he was only supposed to stay in Brazil for six months, but fell in love with the country and the culture and stayed for a total of four and a half years. He is now 32 and still considers himself fluent. It took him about six months to have a basic level of communication and after two years he was fluent. In Brazil, Portuguese is the official language. He did not receive any formal training when learning Portuguese; he was simply immersed in the culture and the new language.
Prior to learning to Portuguese, he had not had any experience with Portuguese. However, he took Spanish in high school for two years, which gave him a base of Latin. Spanish and Portuguese are somewhat similar so he was able to pick up a few key verbs. The difficultly he had in learning Portuguese was having to infer meanings. Even when he had a basic level of communication, there were many words he still did not know. Thus he had to infer the meanings and fill in the blanks.
Travis said, “the key is be perceptive and be able to infer from context (Greenwell, 2016). While Travis now considers himself 100% communicatively competent in Portuguese, he believes that when you learn a second language you are always learning. Any language is always ongoing, but with your first language you are so comftorable with the language that you do not realize that you are developing. With a second language you are aware of this and feel the need to constantly learn. The easiest part of learning Portuguese was that he was immersed in the language and had constant exposure. Also, he thought it was interesting and fun. In Brazil, people saw him as an American learning Portuguese.
However, an important statement made by Travis was, “this is highly dependent on culture and the country. If the role was revered and I was a Brazilian learning English in America, I feel that I would have been looked at as less intelligent (Greenwell, 2016). ” This statement made by Travis is important to keep in mind, when discussing my second interviewee’s process. Likewise, there were people that spoke English and his contact with his family, provided Travis with an additive environment that supported both of Travis’s languages. Travis’s has a very outgoing and motivating personality.
He had a certain mindset during his second language acquisition. The first was when learning anything in life; you have to have no fear of failure. When you are learning a second language you are going to look dumb, but you have to be courageous enough to do it anyways and be okay with making mistakes. Second, he was very curious. If he saw a word he didn’t understand and would see it in different contexts he would continuously thinking about the word. The word would be on his mind all day until he looked it up.
This was one of his best strategies when earning Portuguese. Overall, he believes that learning a second language and being immersed in a new culture was one of the best things he has ever done. It was at times difficult and frustrating, but his motivation to learn and allowing himself to fail at time, has made him grow as a person. While he is currently living in his hometown of Houston, he plans on moving back to Brazil within the next few months. Leticia was born in Tijuana, Mexico. In 1973, at the age of 9, she was forced to move to Los Angeles, California, due to the death of her father.
She only spoke Spanish and was supposed to start 4th grade, unfortunately because she did not know English they put her in 3rd grade. She received additional tutoring because she was so far behind, however, it was not formal training. She picked up most of her English at school. She had no pervious experience with English or any other languages prior to moving to Los Angeles. What she found most difficult was that her mom and elders only spoke Spanish. She did not have a parent or peer to help her learn English faster or properly. This was a subtractive environment for Leticia.
While she was receiving her support for her first language at home, culturally it was not being supported. In regards to using English, she had to figure a lot of it by context and gestures. While Leticia is fully communicatively competent and fluent, she feels that she has yet to fully master grammar. In elementary school, it is when you learn your ABC’s, etc. , so she feels she never was able to grasp and learn the foundations of English. The easiest thing about learning English was that she was living in the country that primarily spoke English.
Going to the store, see signs, watch television, all gave her an extra exposure that she was not receiving at home. People reacted negatively to Leticia when she was learning English, they were rude, mean, and treated her as if she was less intelligent. She said, “being Mexican and speaking Spanish, people saw it as a bad thing. People looked to you as you were a minority and you weren’t worth anything (Greenwell, 2016). ” People who spoke Spanish tried really hard to start learning English, however, she believes now things are different. Like Travis, Leticia has a very outgoing personality.
She was never shy or embarrassed to say things wrong, she would at least try. Even if she would say things wrong, she would learn from her mistakes. She was also very eager to learn and highly motivated, because she wanted to be accepted among her peers. Thus, it was very integrated. Overall, Leticia felt the way she had to go about learning English made is very hard. She would come home to her native language, so she and to always think in Spanish and speak in English and vice versa. However, after living here for 40+ years she English is her primary language.
Now, she feels that she is privileged to be fluent in two different languages. It has opened a lot of different opportunities for her. She became a travel agent and flight attendant, traveling the world and having the ability to speak to two different cultures was highly beneficial. Although Travis and Leticia were two different ages when they acquired their second language, it was interesting to see their similarities that allowed them to have a similar process of acquisition. I think these similarities are highly dependent on their personality.
Both individuals were highly motivated, outgoing, and not afraid to make mistakes. They were also open-minded and willing to learn. Despite their age and cultural attitudes, they acquired a second language in a fairly fast amount of time. Onwuegbuzie, Bailey, and Daley (2001), examined the cognitive, affective, personality, and demographic predictors of foreign-language achievement. They sampled 184 students ages 18-71, enrolled in four different language courses at a University. Students were given a questionnaire and were allotted two weeks to complete it.
What the researchers found was that GPA was the highest predictor of foreign-language achievement, with foreign language anxiety following in second. This finding aligns with Travis and Leticia. They had low anxiety because they were not afraid to take risks. Since they had lower anxiety, they had a higher self-confidence leading to a higher motivation to learn a new language. A similar study conducted by Ozanska-Ponikwia and Dewaele (2012), studied the advantage of being open-minded and self confident in an immigration context.
They collected data from 102 polish individuals ranging from the age of 17-58 years old. The participants were evaluated by personality and sociobiographical questionnaire. They found that openness and selfesteem were significantly beneficial to the use of a second language. Again, both Travis and Leticia immigrated to another country. While Travis was temporarily, their ability to take advantage of their situation and be open to their new culture, allowed them to have a smoother process of language acquisition.
What was interesting to assess after conducting both interviews was the question about how people reacted to them while they were learning English. Travis said that people were accepting of him because they simply saw him as an American learning Portuguese, but if the roles were reversed people would look at him as less intelligent. When this is exactly how Leticia felt. While Leticia felt that society might have evolved since this time, I do not think as a whole we have. Granted, we have evolved greatly, but still not to the point of being whole-heartedly accepting and where we should be as culture.
Overall, it was interesting to see the process of second language acquisition between a 7 year old and a 26 year old. Despite the differences in their cultural and environmental factors, their personality showed to b ortant factor in helping to acquire their second language. Travis showed to have an easier time because of his age and his ability to go seek resources, where as Leticia had to be more creative about where she received input. Acquiring a second language, especially sequentially, can be difficult. However, having the right mindset can make the experience far more smooth and enjoyable.